Thursday, November 20, 2014

IntegrityUSA Appoints Marie Alford-Harkey as Vice-President for Local Affairs

At a November 17th meeting, the Integrity USA Board of Directors appointed Marie Alford-Harkey as Vice President of Local Affairs, filling a vacancy created by the special election of Matt Haines as President this past October.

Marie is the Deputy Director of the Religious Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. She is the lead author of the 2014 Religious Institute publication Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities.

Marie leads workshops, writes, preaches, and teaches to promote a progressive vision of faith and sexuality. She has presented at the Wild Goose Festival and Creating Change, and is a contributor to the Believe Out Loud blog. Marie has led workshops on sexuality for future religious leaders, has preached on faith and sexuality from Episcopal, UCC, and Unitarian Universalist pulpits, and has advocated for sexual justice as a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Marie is a lay deputy to General Convention 2015 and served as an alternate in 2012.

An educator with twenty years of classroom experience, Marie holds a Master's degree in Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Master's and a Bachelor's degree in French.

Marie joined the Episcopal Church in 2002.  She is the Associate for Digital Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, Connecticut, where she preaches and teaches regularly.

Marie taught French and Spanish in public secondary schools for the first twenty years of her career. She was a faculty moderator for her school's Gay Straight Alliance, where she learned how important it is for queer youth to hear voices of love and welcome in their faith communities.

Please join us in congratulating and thanking Marie for agreeing to assume this responsibility.  You may reach her at marie@integrityusa.org or @EMarieAH on Twitter.


Transgender Day of Remembrance

"Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness."
  •  From Feinberg’s obituary, written by hir spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt.

Leslie Feinberg’s seminal memoir Stone Butch Blues changed the lives of many of my friends. They were excited to read a book about the experiences of someone whose gender was resolutely masculine, despite the seeming conflict of their body; it was their experience.

For me, as a self-identified dyke who would eventually transition to something we all agree to call "male," the very title was too confronting. Butchness was terrifying to me because it suggested that I might be masculine, something about myself I had worked to eradicate, destroy even.

When a period of deep meditation and prayer revealed to me that I needed to change, my response was, "Really, God? Really? Because I don’t have enough on my plate!?" But as most apparent curses from our true selves turn out, transitioning has been an absolute gift. It is the best thing God has given me, after recovery from addiction; it is a remarkable journey that continues to bless me with amazing people and opportunities. Transitioning has given me a deeper connection to my spiritual being because I’m no longer afraid.

Leslie Feinberg seemed unafraid all the time. Ze (see footnote) was always the first on the front-lines, an early AIDS activist, pro-worker, racial justice pioneer, who seemed to recharge by fighting systems of oppression. The Lyme disease that slowly, painfully, took hir energy and life, went undiagnosed, and then poorly treated as doctors and nurses found hir gender-presentation confronting. Feinberg wrote often of systems that worked against hir, using hir own horrific stories of the anti-LGBTQ institutional cruelty and ignorance ze endured to educate and restore humanity for the rest of us.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance I want to honor my sister-brothers. I want to carry the work that Leslie did, the work that our saint Pauli Murray does, for dignity and integrity for all souls, forward. I’ve been given a whole lot of grace on my own journey! My feelings have been hurt too many times to count as a transguy, but I bore more violence as a woman and a lesbian than I have as a transgender man. For this relatively easy transition I am deeply grateful. For others, the violence and neglect continues or worsens. Most of my friends agree: transitioning has made our lives exponentially better. But it does not make the world so.

To be transgender can mean being loving, lively, creative, and connected. To be transgender in situations that diminish our worth is painful, depressing, and soul-destroying. All of us know this—as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*gender, as intersex and as queer people we’ve all experienced some flavor of the diminishment of who and what we are. On this day of gravitas and difficult reality, I’m going to remember those who came before me, who made my new life possible through their lives and work. I renew my commitment as a transgender spiritual human—a Transgender Warrior, in the language of Feinberg--to speak up and out, and to share the love that was so generously given to me. Our strength comes from that absolute understanding: we are a part of God, and therefore magnificent and holy beyond human reckoning. As are you. God bless our trans* family. 
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that you lay down your life for your friends…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

This I command you, to love one another."
John 15:12-17

Sam Peterson is the Development Director at Integrity USA.

+
Leslie Feinberg adopted the gender-neutral pronouns ze (instead of he or she) and hir (instead of his or her) during much of her journey, reverting to she/her in her last years. I've used ze/hir to emphasis the elasticity and expansiveness of our journey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Integrity's 40th Anniversary Inaugural Reception


After a stirring sermon and Eucharist to inaugurate Integrity's 40th Anniversary year, a reception was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh, North Carolina. The sermon was given by the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry and the video is available online.

The guests of honor for the evening were Dr. Louie Clay and his husband Ernest Clay. Dr. Clay started Integrity 40 years ago and this Eucharist and reception was to begin celebrating all that has been accomplished in that time and to remind ourselves of all that remains to be done.

Our speakers were Matt Haines, recently-elected president of Integrity's board. Matt spoke about our excitement around our Carolina efforts, and our future collaboration with the Pauli Murray Project. He urged people to sign up as both members and volunteers for our Carolina campaign. Integrity Executive Director Vivian Taylor spoke next, thanking everyone, and asking NC to think about how we might be of service to our members and friends, reminding all of us that much more must be done.

Indhira Udofia from the Pauli Murray Project talked about Pauli Murray's ongoing creation of community, and the mobile exhibition they hope to create to generate ideas and relationships locally. Pauli inhabited a generosity and fluidity in her gender, race, and class, that the Pauli Murray Project and Integrity want to share collaboratively.

Integrity member Sissi Loftin and her partner Janet Brocklehurst make beautiful handmade crucifixes for their business Sweet Harmony Crosses, donating a portion to Integrity on a regular basis. They sent us a gorgeous rainbow mosaic crucifix! Sissi and Janet asked that it be donated in the name of their friend The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward,  one of the original 11 women ordained forty years ago, who lives in NC and who was recently recognized by Bishop Curry. We presented the gift to Bishop Curry to thank him for all that he's done for Integrity.

We wish to thank the good people of Church of the Good Shepherd who helped us in our celebration. Parish Administrator Darylene Netzer was our liaison to everyone to the church, sexton Tony Wilson, oversaw the event and stayed til the end to close the church. Vestry Treasurer and Altar Guild leader Caryl Fuller helped set things up for the Eucharist. The Rev. Robert Sawyer, Rector of CGS, helped Bishop Curry during the Eucharist, and David Roten was our Verger.

Integrity wishes to thank the Diocese of North Carolina for their hospitality. Moreover, we wish to thank the Haas, Jr. Foundation and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for helping us work with the local community to work towards full inclusion. We ask all Integrity members and allies to help bring full inclusion, equality, and safety for LGBTQ in all churches and communities throughout our land.



Monday, November 17, 2014

We Remember with Integrity

 © Mel Soriano, 2013
This time of year calls us all to remember what is important — who is important. These remembrances enliven our souls in hope as we attempt to grasp the greatness of God’s love and compassion.  As we remember, let us be mindful of our responsibility.

We began November recalling the brave sainthood of believers whom the church lifts up on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1).  The next day, on All Souls' Day, we remembered those in our own lives whom we trust, resting in God’s mercy, join those red-letter saints above.

As we remember our veterans this month (Nov. 11), it is worth remembering that after serving on our behalf many vets still suffer the pains of war and face uneasiness trying to find peace at home.  Many are still without work, suffer homelessness and come home to isolation.  Though "don’t ask, don’t tell" is no longer the law of the land, we have to make sure that prejudice is dealt with and we need to remember that transgender service members are still are not able to openly serve.  As Christians we must seek ways to serve these selfless servants.

Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 speaks to a different sort of remembering.  Here we recall those in our community who have died to violence; who are still enduring violence.  This is happening in real time! Violence and murder are rampant on streets of America and transgender people — particularly women of color — are frequently the ones most at risk.  In some cases the violence inflicted on transgender folk can be traced to a general backlash in light of the recent successes enjoyed by the gay and lesbian parts of our community. This is a tough reality which calls cisgender people to remember our common call to work together in true solidarity.

As World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 approaches, we remember the many people we have lost to the disease. Those of us who have lost loved ones may still be grasping to understand how to deal with that loss and to realize what it means to be the one left behind. We know that many people are HIV-positive today and living full lives with the virus through hard work and medical science. We must always remember the responsibilities we have to stop the spread of the virus and to be there for those who are positive.

This month on Nov. 6 we also launched Integrity's 40th Anniversary celebration.  This year we remember and lift up all who have served the church with Integrity on behalf LGBTQ people.  There have been great strides made throughout these decades.  We should spend this year remembering all those who have helped to make the Episcopal Church more open and welcoming.  This is not about nostalgia; rather we seek to gain strength from those who have done such extraordinary things.  Their service should convict us to work even harder to help the church realize its call of service to every one of God’s beloved children.

Remember the mission and ministry of Integrity USA in your prayers, your imagination and in your charitable giving. God might be calling you to join in on this work! Our work is NOT done.  Pray that our hearts will then be filled with the restlessness of the Holy Spirit; ready to honor memory with ministry.



Matt Haines is the President of the Board of Directors at Integrity USA

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Louie and Ernest Clay - Our Guests of Honor for the 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist


As we gather resources to bring LGBT issues and marriages to General Convention in Salt Lake City next year, we also remember our heroes who have gotten us to this point.

In 1973, Ernest Clay was training as a sales associate at Rich's, Atlanta's largest department store, and living at the Lucky Street YMCA.  On Labor Day weekend, he met Louie Crew, at the elevator on the 6th floor. At that time Louie was teaching at Fort Valley State University. They courted for five months, and married in Fort Valley, GA on February 2, 1974. At the time their marriage had no legal standing. They married legally on August 22, 2013 and Crew took on his husband's last name.

Integrity was founded by Dr. Louie Crew in Georgia in 1974 and since that time it has been a leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in The Episcopal Church and for equal access to its rites.

On Thursday, November 6, 2014, Integrity kicked off its 40th anniversary celebration in Raleigh, North Carolina with a Eucharist celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of North Carolina. According to Louie, Bishop Curry is one of the best preachers in the Anglican Communion; I am inclined to agree.

Let’s go back a few steps for those of you too young to realize the impact of those statements above. Louie Crew was born in Anniston, Alabama in 1936, Ernest Clay was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1948. Louie is a white man, Ernest is a black man. They met in Georgia, courted in Georgia, married in Georgia forty years ago. The fact that they both survived the aforementioned events in the south forty years ago is nothing short of a miracle. Who am I kidding, the fact that they survived those events in America forty years ago is a miracle. Then Louie decided he needed to prod The Episcopal Church.


Forty years have passed and -- with Louie's guidance and inspiration -- Integrity has gone from a discreetly-mailed newsletter to a catalyst for change in the church. Louie has received honorary doctorates from the Episcopal Divinity School, General Theological Seminary, and Church Divinity School of The Pacific. These are in addition to the one he earned from the University of Alabama. I’m waiting for the bishop of his diocese to name him a Canon. Louie and Ernest Clay now live in New Jersey but they got on a plane and flew to Raleigh, North Carolina to kick off the first of many 40th anniversary celebrations Integrity members will hold over the next year. Louie participated in the Eucharist and he and Ernest joined the celebration at the reception.

The ultimate celebration of Integrity’s 40th anniversary will be the Integrity Eucharist at General Convention 2015, to be held in June in Salt Lake City. If you are able, you should make your reservations to be there. General Convention and Integrity will be a part of history you don’t want to miss.


Elisabeth Jacobs is the Treasurer and Board Member of Integrity USA


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bishop Michael Curry Preaches at the 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist

The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry preaching to Integrity at Church of the Good Shepherd, Raleigh, NC

On Thursday, November 6, 2014, Integrity USA inaugurated its 40th Anniversary year with a Eucharist and celebration. The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, celebrated and preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His sermon can be watched here and our transcription follows below.



Thank you. Thank you for helping the church reclaim her call.  Thank you for helping us become more and more of who we have been called to be.  Thank you for helping us maybe hear anew again, for the first time, the siren call of the Savior who says, "Follow me."

This 40th anniversary is significant because Integrity from your very beginning (I see my friend [Louie Clay] sitting here) was a call to hear the deep call of God, and for the church to be who Jesus calls us to be, and for what God dreams for this world to be. So thank you.

So let me talk to the text from the Gospel that was read a few moments ago.  John 21; the crucifixion has happened, Jesus has died, then that great gettin' up moment happens.  And he was raised from the dead.  I'm somewhat relieved the brother got up, 'cause if he didn't get up, I'm gettin' out. (laughter) I can make more money than I can with this gig, so get it real.

So he's raised from the dead. I don't know how it all happened, I don't explain it, I just accept it.  He was raised from the dead, and he appeared on different occasions, and the Gospel writers tried to put their hands around it, and finally in one of them, in John's Gospel, in one of the appearances after the disciples have been eating breakfast on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus pulls Peter aside, and he says, "Simon bar Jonah, do you love me more than these?"

And Peter says, "Yes, of course I do, Brother!"

"Feed my sheep."

"Simon!"

"Yes Lord?"

"Do you love me?"

"Lord, you just asked me that question!"  He's looking back. (laughter) I'm reading between the lines.  "You just asked me that question. Of course I do!"

"Tend my sheep."

And then again he says to him, "Simon, son of John! Do you love me?"

And Peter at that point is beginning to get exasperated: "You may be the Lord, but you're gettin' on my last nerve! Yes, you know that I love you!"

Then he says to him, "Well when you were young, you used to go where you wanted to go. You used to do what you wanted to do." I'm getting older now, and I can't do what I used to be able to do. But when you were young, you did what you wanted to do, you went where you wanted to go, you kinda felt your own power and your own energy, and did your own thing. Like the Isley Brothers (sings) It's your thing, do what you wanna do  Right? Someone here remembers that song! (laughter)

"When you were young, that's what you could do, but when you're old, when you mature in this relationship with me, when you mature in your relationship to God, when you mature in your relationship with the Spirit, another will take you by the hands, and lead you where you do not want to go.  Now follow me!" John said Jesus said this to indicate the manner by which Peter would sacrifice his life for the cause of that love that Jesus was talking about.

See, that love was the key. It was the key to Peter's discipleship. Without that love, it doesn't work.  Without that love, it becomes a mechanical, rote formula.  Without that love, there is no reason for doing it. It's love that is the key to the following of Jesus in good times and in bad. It is love that is key to living a life (here, I'm coming to it now!) of Integrity (silence) I worked on that for an hour! (laughter, applause) It is that love that is the key to life itself! It is love that is the key to the life of the world. It is the love that is the key to saving this planet. It is love that will be the key to abolishing war.  It is love that will be the key to making poverty history!  Love!

"Now," Jesus says, "Integrity, do you love me?"

"Now," Jesus says, "Episcopal Church in North Carolina, do you love me? Bishop, do you love me? Christians, do you love me? Then follow me. Not where you want to go.  Follow me where the spirit of God has already gone. Love."

See, I've noticed something.  When you read the Bible -- parents do this with their kids all the time; when parents repeat stuff, they really mean for you to pay attention. When the Bible repeats something, it's probably worth paying attention. When you see a theme that keeps getting repeated in church. Or when Jesus keeps saying the something over and over again, it's probably worth paying attention, like that little gospel song "God is Trying to Tell You Something".

When Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" He was telling him something so profound that one time was not enough to get it. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Peter, you denied me three times! But love can heal. Love is a balm in Gilead, and it can heal you in your denial, Peter. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Love is power that can conquer evil and that can vanquish death.

If you go back and look at John's Gospel, it's interesting that Jesus's conversations about love cluster at the Last Supper.  John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish...." Everybody knows that; at least if they're Rite I Episcopalians, they know that one! And these present of his body, they know that.

That's probably the one exception to the love theme in John that is early in the Gospel.  The rest of the passages about Love in John's Gospel cluster in chapters 13-17 which is John's Last Supper.  It is at the Last Supper that Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment that you love one another." It is at the Last Supper that he takes a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet. "I'm giving you an example of what love looks like."

This is not easy stuff.  This is not a Hallmark greeting card. This is tough stuff I'm talking about. At the Last Supper he says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love."

At the Last Supper he says -- as Judas is about to slither out of the room to betray him -- Love. 

Peter will deny that he even knows him -- love.  And most of them who would abandon him, save a few faithful ones -- Love.

As he's tried on trumped-up charges in the middle of the night -- Love.

As human tribunals dare to try the Lord -- Love.

As soldiers take him and mock him and spit on him and torture him -- Love.

As they nailed those hands that only healed to a blood-stained cross - Love.

When he cried his last, and looked in his mama's eyes, and then said, "it is finished" -- Love.

Sunday morning. The Earth is starting to shake.  (Like the song "Shake, Rattle and Roll!") Nobody's quite sure what, but something's going on: something seismic.  Something deep within the hall of reality is being disturbed and shaken and rent asunder, it's LOVE! Cracking open the tomb!  LOVE! Giving life anew again!  LOVE! Simon, do you love me? LOVE has the power that can set you free!  LOVE can heal you! LOVE can reconcile you! LOVE can liberate you! Love can show you the way with integrity... (to Louie) I got it again! (laughter) Life with dignity, and life saturated with eternity.

Phew! Thank you.  You have reminded the church again -- and we must continually be be reminded -- that that love is our calling.

I was the brand-new rector of St. James: Baltimore back in 1988. The first Sunday that I was there, I was in the sacristy and people were coming up to me and introducing themselves: the head of the altar guild, the ladies' choir... I was just greeting people, and finally got to this one gentlemen, who became a dear friend... he put out his hand and said his name, and said, "I'm I'm the treasurer." I said "Very glad to meet you," and he said "... and I'm in the 'B Group'"

I remember thinking I know about the St. Francis Guild, the Altar Guild... we had a lot of guilds, but I said "I'm interested; I don't know what the B Group is."

And he said, "Well, Father, I've been here before you got here, I'll be here while you're here, and I'll be here when you're gone." (laughter)

And when I was made the bishop here, it was in the chapel down the road, and there he was in the last pew, in the last seat.  He looked at me coming out of the procession, and he said, "Well, Father, I'm still in the 'B Group' and you're gone!"  (laughter)

I want to suggest that God is the ultimate 'B Group'.  The Bible says God is the Alpha and the Omega, God is the beginning and the end. God is the one who was, and is, and is to come.  God  is God. God is ALL THAT! God is all that God needs to be whole and complete and fulfilled. God and God! Paul Tillich once said when you're think you've got God learnt, God is the god behind that god.  We're talking about GOD.

Which is another way of saying God has all the company that God needs within God's self.  You think you're more important than the Trinity? Which is another way of saying God doesn't need us.  God doesn't need the world.  God didn't make the world... and he didn't make us... because God needed it. God did it because 1 John 4:7  "Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God because God is Love."  The reason this world is here, the reason that we are here is because God is love.

And in the words of St. Paul... you gotta get him on a good day... 1 Corinthians 13:1: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" If you read into the middle of Chapter 13, you'll discover that Paul says, "love is not jealous; love is not rude, love is not boastful; love does not does not insist on its own way," which is a way of saying that real love looks out for the good and the welfare of the other.  Real love is willing to move over and space for the other to be.  Real love!  God moved over, and made space for the world.  Moved over and made room for you... and you... and me.  God said, "let there be, because God is love, and that is what love does.  And that is the most titanic power in all of history. "Simon, son of John.  Do you love me?"

See, the truth is that battles have been won, but the war is not over. The struggle with day-to-day inequality is not over.  We have a long-distance race yet to run.  Jesus understood that, and understood that we don't have the strength in ourselves alone to run it.  You don't have the strength in yourself alone to run it.  There will be setbacks yet to come:  don't be fooled! In any struggle, there will be setbacks yet to come.  I mean, I thought the kingdom of God was gonna come when Barack Obama became president; we saw what happened with that! The brother can't get a break no matter what he does.  I mean, the President of the United States has to convince people that he's an American!  Let's get real, right? But that's the reaction. That's the reality.

And you need a power greater than your own to run this race. We need a power that is generated by the love that is between us.  We need a power that is generated by the God who created us, and Jesus understood that.  You can't follow him without living in his love.  That's the power that can lift you up!  That's the power that does not say no. St. Paul said it this way: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I'm going to sit down, 'cause we've got more church to do. Thank you.

Have you seen that movie 42?  Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey.... it's worth it; in fact, there ought to be a catechismal requirement! (laughter)  It's the story of the desegregation and integration of Major League Baseball.  In the 1940s and 1950s and before that, baseball was America's game, and -- like America -- it was completely segregated.  You had the old Negro Leagues and incredible ball players there, and the American League and the National League, and everybody was white there.  And never the twain shall meet.  There was no All-Star Game where they played together; that didn't happen.  This was total, complete segregation: America's game.

Branch Rickey, God love him, was a baseball man who loved that game.  He loved it enough to challenge it.  See that's what you've been doing, Integrity.  You love the church enough to challenge us to claim a higher calling. Branch Rickey, like you, realized he could not just sit back and play the game, that he had to challenge Major League Baseball to be better, to find its higher and noble self. He was convinced it was necessary to desegregate the ball game and eventually integrate baseball, and that the way to do it was to find one ball player; I gotta start with him.  God knew that too.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Yea! You all know what that refers to; that's the first one, that's the beginning.

So Rickey said If I could find one of the best ball players, both in terms of his statistics on the field, but also in terms of his character....  There were lots of recommendations, and some better, more physical ball players than Jackie Robinson.  But Rickey said, "No, no; I want Jackie Robinson."  And they kind of insisted and said, "Robinson's good but there are some other people who are better!"  But Rickey said "He's good, but he's got a temper; and he messes around too much; and he likes money too much.  I need somebody who is so clean that they can't touch him, and such a character that they won't get inside him."

Branch Rickey, as it turned out, was a devout Christian. He was a cigar-chewin', cussin', whisky-drinkin' ... he wasn't even an Episcopalian (laughter) Christian... my book is called Crazy Christians but I think the next one is going to be called We Need Some Cussin' Christians.  We need cussin' Christians like Branch Rickey who are not going to sit still for the world as it is, but won't waver until the world becomes what God dreams that it can.

So he said, "I want Jackie Robinson!" And they asked "Why" and he said " 'cause Robinson's a Methodist."  And they asked, "What's that got to do with baseball stats?"  And he said, "Because Robinson's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist, and God's a Methodist! I want Jackie Robinson!"

So they they bring Jackie Robinson into the room (and this is history accurate, it's both in the film and Rickey's biography's) and Rickey gives the proposal in front of Robinson and says, "I know you're a ball player, you wanna play ball, and I know that, but you have to do more than play ball.  There are going to be people who spit at you , and you can't spit back.  They're going  to curse you, and you can't curse back.  They're going to call you every name but a child of God, and you can't call them any names back.  And God forbid, they may try to kill you, and you can't strike back."

At that point Robinson kind of arched his back.  He could feel the anger of repressed feeling bubbling up... the anger.  He said "Rickey, you want a negro who's afraid to fight back."  And Rickey said, "No, I want a ballplayer who's got the courage not to fight back."  Rickey took a book out of his drawer... this is in his biography... it was titled The Life of Christ.  And he read to Jackie Robinson, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, and so you will be children of your Father in heaven." 

Robinson at that point put out his hand, and he and Branch Rickey shook.  Those two guys through the power of love, changed baseball.  Baseball helped to change America.  And America at its best can help to make a better world.

Don't you underestimate the power of love.  Don't you give up on the power of love. Because the source of all love is God. And if God be for us, who can be against us?

My grandmother used to sing:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I. 


Love lifted me, love lifted me
When nothing else would help
Love lifted me.

God love you. God bless you. And God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.


Amen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflections on a Bishop's Sermon at Integrity Atlanta's 26th Annual Gay Pride Eucharist

Reflections on a sermon for Integrity Atlanta’s 26th Annual Gay Pride Eucharist for Human Rights, October 9, 2014

This service has had special meaning for me for many years. It is that not-often-found opportunity to share both my spirituality and sexuality in a safe space where those around me are doing the same. The service takes on even more meaning when the Bishop is preaching and presiding. Our shepherd is there with us and in many ways is "guiding and guarding" us. Such was clearly the case with the sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, on the occasion of Integrity Atlanta’s 26th Annual Gay Pride Eucharist.

2014 Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage
Bishop Wright taking part in the Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage
PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Wynder, Jr. Used with permission.
(C) Episcopal Divinity School.  All rights reserved
Bishop Wright used the work of a not-so-well known saint, Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, to -- forgive a well-worn phrase -- "nail it" with his sermon. It was quite clear to all present where our bishop stood when it comes to the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the Episcopal Church. From the point of his consecration/ordination as our bishop in October 2012 (coincidentally on Pride weekend no less!), his goal has been to "draw the circle wider, draw it wider still."

He spoke of being appalled at a number of things, including the high rate of teen/youth suicide attempts and suicides related to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. His words touched my heart: one of my volunteer activities is with an organization that serves homeless LGBTQ teens and youth. Several times he moved me to tears, both with his words and the simple act of being with us, being "on our side," being present with our struggles.

Ours is not just a bishop of words. He is a bishop of action, having participated at demonstrations at our state capitol over unjust policies and bad legislation. He has blessed same gender relationships, doing so for a priest and her wife in the midst of her parish family and friends. (Of course they didn’t get married here. They had to go to a more enlightened state for that. Perhaps soon we will join civilization.)

I commend the words (and actions) of Bishop Wright to you. Listen to the entire sermon here.



Bruce Garner is Integrity's Province IV (Southeast) Coordinator.  He has served as our president in the past, and has been a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Loving God, Loving Each Other - A sermon by the Rev. Jon Richardson

Proper 25A
Matthew 22:34-46 

In the name of God.  Amen.

One of the things that can be both exciting, but also sometimes a little bit maddening about Jesus is the way he can twist a question to give the answer he wants to give.  Or, like unto that, the way his answers to questions are sometimes so obtuse that even those first apostles were often left scratching their heads.  If there’s any one overarching personality trait about Jesus that transcends the various Gospel accounts, it’s that: the surprising ways that he answers (and sometimes refuses to answer) questions.

It can be exciting watching him thwart those who mean to oppose him.  But for us - people who simply want to learn and to grow and to follow Christ - his answers can sometimes be a little bit maddening.  Sometimes, we just need a clear, concise answer.  Sometimes we don’t want to have to work so hard.  But that’s not usually Jesus’ way.  Usually, we have to work for it.

Today, however, we hear one of those rare occasions when - even though the Pharisee was trying to test him - Jesus answered plainly and directly.  There could be no mistaking or misunderstanding.

“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Perhaps it was meant to trip him up.  Perhaps they were thinking that if they put him on the spot, he might say something that they could use to incriminate him.

Instead, he spoke about as directly as he ever could have.  He answered clearly, and concisely - in one of those phrases that we should all have etched on our hearts and in our minds to guide us through everything that we do.

“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”

It couldn't be any clearer.  This is what we’re about.  Despite all the ways that people have talked about the faith, and written about it, and done theology, and fought and died and conquered - this is what it all comes down to.

Or at least, what it should all come down to.

Unfortunately, too often it doesn't  Too often we add rules and questions and fears and anxiety.  But the real crux of it all is really pretty simple.  It’s about being in relationship.  It’s about loving God, and loving each other.

It seems like Christianity should be the easiest thing in the world to master.  But too often we fall short.

Over the weekend, I had the great opportunity to join a couple of other priests in our diocese to represent the Diocese of Long Island at an event celebrating and supporting the work of the Ali Forney Center in New York City.  For those who are unfamiliar with their work, AFC is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing support for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender youth who are homeless or whose housing status is insecure.  When teens and young adults come out to their parents as Lesbian, Gay, Bi, or Trans as many as a quarter of them are disowned by their families and put out of their homes - left to fend for themselves and to find their way without the support most young people can expect from their families. Because this rejection by families is so common, more than half of all homeless youth identify as a member of the LGBT community.

“'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”

The Ali Forney Center is battling this scourge with emergency shelters, education programs, drop in centers, and much more.  They are living out the words of Jesus - perhaps better than most of our churches do.

Of course they are not a Christian organization.  They aren’t associated with any religious community or tradition.  But they are doing ministry.  They are living examples of how we should love God and each other.

But, as moving as it was to learn about their work and their mission, and to hear about the great strides that they’re making in easing the effects of a real life problem that’s happening here - in our own back yards; the thing that was most surprising, and most moving to me was the fact that, from the moment we arrived, people kept coming up to us, and stopping us, and thanking us for being there.  Among the thousands of people at this event, we were the only priests, and we stood out.

It should be an embarrassment for Christians everywhere, but the number one reason that young LGBT people are expelled from their homes is because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

So standing out, and being priests at that event was a powerful witness.  It was important for us to be there, and to proclaim proudly that not all Christians are so filled with hate.

One of the most significant things Jesus says in his summary of the law is that little connector between the two commandments.  He says, “A second is like it”.

It’s not just that we are called to love God and to love each other - as separate tasks.  Jesus is saying that it’s almost the same thing.  Part of how we love God is through loving each other.  The best way to show your love for God is to love the people God has created, and also loves.

The Ali Forney Center started from one man’s vision for how the world could be a little bit better.  He imagined what the world would be like if we could divert a little bit of love to some folks who've been among the most unloved in our society - to even the scales, just a little.  In doing so, he and the organization have saved untold thousands of lives.

That’s what love can do.

We may not all start multi-million dollar non-profit organizations to address major social needs.  In fact, most of us won’t.  But what we can do - one of the best ways that we can live out our Christian vocations - is by loving the people whom God has put into our lives.

Sometimes the answers are really simple.  Love God.  Love each other.  That’s the basis of all that we’re called to do.  Amen.

From a sermon delivered at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Valley Stream, NY.

The Rev. Jon M. Richardson is Integrity's Vice President for National Affairs.  His blog (at www.JonMRichardson.com) features his sermons and theater reviews

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sean Glenn: HIV and Undetectable Transmission

During a therapy session a few weeks ago, my behavioral health provider asked me a question, "Why do you remain compliant?" (That is to say, "why are you taking your anti-retroviral medications?") To my surprise, my answer left him at a loss for words. After considering every possible vantage, I responded, "I take my medication for the sake of and as an act of service to the community around me."

I could discern the look of perplexity on his face at once. "Really?" he asked, "You don’t take it because of the health benefits and the guarantee of a greater longevity of life? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a patient respond that way."

"No," I responded, "because none of that is really up to me. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow; there are an innumerable myriad of ways that I could die unprepared, and a good 99% of them have nothing to do with the fact that I’m HIV-positive. I give my mortality up to God — we were all ordained to return to the dust one day. I just don’t know when. As such, I think it is more important for me to take my medication to ensure that no one around me contracts the virus from me. It’s the small role I can perform in an effort to eradicate the virus. Nothing would thrill me more at the end of my life than to know that this thing dies with me. That, I guess, is why I work to remain undetectable."

Of course, the virus will likely not die with my passing body, but we are getting closer to such a reality.

As Arthur Campbell Aigner’s eschatological hymn declares, "God is working his purpose out as year
succeeds to year: God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea."

For those living with, and among, the reality of HIV, the qualifier "undetectable" is a step to this divine purpose.

Yet, there exists, within the LGBT community at least, a long standing suspicion of the HIV sero-marker "undetectable." Conversations with some (as well as comment threads on HIV-related articles) display, even in the face of overwhelming scientific findings, a readiness to stigmatize the sero-positive and read "undetectable" as an excuse to "behave poorly and selfishly."

The science, however, may be in and my long standing beliefs seem to hold true in the face of the empirical evidence: treatment as prevention works. In a world where abstinence education simply will not hold among many communities, and where (despite the vast accessibility of condoms) unprotected sex continues its appeal for many partners seeking such a level of intimacy, treatment as prevention is demonstrating a long-ranging efficacy for the reduction of HIV transmission rates.

A landmark Partner study, which "tracked HIV transmission risk through condomless sex [where] the
HIV-positive partner is on suppressive antiretroviral medication—has so far found not even one case
of an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a partner." This is
enormous news for both the sero-positive and sero-negative communities. Although researchers fully
disclose the fact that these findings are not yet the final telos for the study of transmission, the results
so far are telling.

As I mentioned in an article a few months back (HIV and Corporate Profit: Recognizing the needs of a Community), treatment as prevention is a method of preventing HIV transmission by ensuring that those who are sero-positive are receiving regular medical care and are taking an anti-retroviral medication so that their viral load (the measurement of viral duplications per milliliter of blood) remains suppressed.

While the scientific findings regarding the efficacy of a suppressed viral load as a part of the treatment as prevention model are indeed exciting, the broad-reaching social implications are somewhat frustrating. As Lucas Grindley comments, "What many experts already know about how HIV is transmitted still holds true: [n]ew infections usually come from people who are undiagnosed, who don’t know they have the virus, and who are not on treatment."

In my own experience, the day-to-day medical realities of life with HIV are seldom what keep people
from knowing their status. While my last article focused heavily on the imperative that anti-retroviral
medication be made as readily and easily available as possible, I also posit that stigma is an enormous
roadblock in the treatment as prevention model. Treatment as prevention only works when people
are willing to know their status, without fear of the systemic, legal, and historical project of HIV
stigmatization, especially as the greater impetus toward reducing medical and scientific illiteracy is
thrust upon the shoulders of the sero-positive.

It is, to say quite simply, an exhausting reality. I can no longer count the times I, among friends,
colleagues, strangers, and prospective lovers, have had to haul out the facts about transmission rates
among those who know their status versus those who do not. I can no longer count the number of
instances wherein I have heard a young man say, "I would get tested, but I’m too scared to."

These words, "I would get tested, but I’m too scared," could very well have been on the lips of the young man from whom I contracted HIV nearly four years ago. Had he known his status and had he been on an anti-retroviral regimen, the trajectory of my own life may well have looked quite different. But systems of stigmatization stood in the way of his own self-knowledge. Indeed, these same systems often stood in the way of my own self-knowledge. This was by no means his or my fault. It is, however, the reason I refuse to hide. It is the reason that I refuse to let HIV-stigmatization go uncriticized, even if it means deeply questioning the assumptions of some in my social circles.

As a church, both denominationally and ecumenically, we are called by the wounded yet living Christ to deeply question any and all manner of stigmatization. There was a slogan often rung out in the streets of protest in the late 1980s, "Our Church Has AIDS." This is still true. As members of the Body of Christ, we share each other’s wounds, and, as such, we are called into the process of reshaping (though never actually erasing) those wounds. If we share each other’s wounds, we share each other’s stigma. We are bound in the Eucharist to Christ’s own death and resurrection, yet also are bound to each other’s wounds, stigma, death, and resurrection, here and now.

The church can, therefore, lead in the project of treatment as prevention. The realities of HIV in our own communities should be openly discussed, and education about the various ways (not just abstinence) of navigating such a world should be requisite. We can end stigma together; and, if we end stigma, we may just be able to end HIV.



Sean R. Glenn is Integrity's Diocesan Organizer for Massachusetts. He is a composer and conductor of sacred choral music, and holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Boston University and a Master of Arts in Music from the Aaron Copland School at Queens College. His home on the web is www.seanglenn.com.


Sean Glenn is the Diocesan Organizer for Massachusetts

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

INTEGRITY HOSTS 40TH ANNIVERSARY INAUGURAL EUCHARIST WITH BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY (PRESS RELEASE)


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

INTEGRITY HOSTS 40TH ANNIVERSARY INAUGURAL EUCHARIST WITH BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY

Boston, MA - October 20, 2014 - Integrity USA will host its 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist on November 6, 2014 6:00 PM EST at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Rt. Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, 11th Bishop of North Carolina, will celebrate and preach at the service.

This Anniversary Eucharist also ​serves as a kick-off to our justice work throughout the three dioceses​​ of North Carolina​,​ ​made possible by a generous grant from the Evelyn and Walter Hass, Jr. Fund.​

T​he Eucharist will be followed by a ​wine and hors d'oeuvres ​reception​, hosted by the Integrity Board of Directors. ​​L​GBTQ families, allies, the media, and the questioning are invited to join in the celebration so that all may share their passion for justice and honor the work towards making NC a safe and welcoming home for all.

​This event touches off the celebration of the organization's four decades of advocacy, outreach and fellowship. It will continue through the following year and across the church, with activities in chapters, at partner congregations, and our on-line presence. Integrity USA has been inspiring and equipping the Episcopal Church to proclaim and embody God's love for LGBTQ people and their families and allies since 1974.

Our anniversary year culminates with a joyous Eucharist at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake ​City in June, at which the Rt. Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles, will preach.
Church of the Good Shepherd is at 25 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27603. Please contact Integrity USA's Samuel Peterson at sam@integrityusa.org or +1-919-909-6077 for event details.

Integrity is a member-supported nonprofit organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and straight friends. Since its founding by Dr. Louie Crew in 1974, Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church and equal access to its rites. Integrity activities include advocacy, worship, fellowship, education, communication, outreach, and service to the church. Through Integrity's evangelism, thousands of LGBT people, estranged from the Episcopal Church and other denominations, have returned to parish life.

Event Contact:
Samuel Peterson